Setting up VirtualBox

VirtualBox is a software that lets you run a virtual operating system called the “guest” inside another operating system called the “host”. It can be used to:

  • Run software that doesn’t run on your operating system, e.g. to run a Windows-only software like ArcGIS on Mac or Linux.
  • Try out a new version of an operating system without installing it permanently.
  • Test websites or cross-platform software in order to make sure that they work the same on different operating systems or even different versions of an operating system.

The VirtualBox base package is free software. It can be downloaded from https://www.virtualbox.org/. Download the version for your host operating system. For example, if you are running Windows, download the version of VirtualBox that runs on Windows.

Before you can use VirtualBox, you have to enable Virtualization Technology (VT-x and VT-d) in the BIOS. Altering the BIOS must be done at system startup, so this requires rebooting the computer. Unfortunately, every manufacturer’s BIOS is different, and they are different even among models by the same manufacturer. You will have to poke around to find the necessary settings. But here are some general guidelines:

  1. Reboot your computer.
  2. At reboot (when the screen goes blank, or perhaps when you see the manufacturer logo), you need to hit a special key to access the boot menu. You have a limited time to do so. If you miss it, you will have to allow Windows to boot, then restart again. Some common keys to access the boot menu are:
    • Esc: HP
    • F12: Dell, Lenovo
    • For other manufacturers, consult your documentation or online search engine
  3. Choose the option for BIOS settings. (Other boot menu options might include system diagnostics, boot from external devices, etc.)
  4. You will now have to search through the BIOS for Virtualization Technology (VT-x) and enable it.
  5. If your BIOS offers an option for VT-d, enable that as well. Not all BIOSes will list this as separate option. If it is available, it should be right next to the VT-x option.
  6. Hit Exit and confirm saving changes. Your computer will automatically reboot. (To my knowledge, this is true for all computers.)

After you have enabled VTx, you can run the VirtualBox installer. Once it is installed, you will be able to create virtual machines for Mac, Linux, or even other versions of Windows.

Note that you do have to have an appropriate license for the guest OS:

  • Linux is free software, so all you need to do is download the distro that you want. In this course, we will be using OSGeo-Live, a Linux distro oriented toward geospatial development and analysis. I provide instructions for doing this on a separate page.
  • Windows users must have a license. Temple students can acquire a no-cost license from OnTheHub.com. Search for Temple to get access to the software.
  • MacOS is very tightly integrated into the Apple hardware, so not many people run MacOS on PC hardware. The exceptionally brave may try to build a so-called Hackintosh. Do not ask me for help. I don’t know how to do this and have no interest in doing so.